04 / to just be
“Feb 6, 2019: Yesterday morning I had a panic attack during stand up. My body clammed up. I sped walked to the bathroom to cry. I debated going home. I let the thought of my cousin dying alone while watching TV and having his co-worker and brother find him sink in. I let the fear of my best friends in pain sink in. I felt emotionally exhausted. I braced myself for the crushing realization about the fragility of life. I let the emotions wash over me, and as the anxiety escalated, I told myself it’s going to be ok. I took four deep breaths. Cried some more and then told myself, just get through today, and the rest will take care of itself.”
This was the first time since experiencing panic attacks, where I soothed myself without calling my best friend. This was a major personal victory. I survived the rest of that week and couldn’t wait to celebrate with my therapist, but before I opened my mouth, she said: “I’m leaving to start my own practice.” (which means she no longer takes my insurance so I can’t afford to see her anymore).
At that moment, I felt shocked, exasperated, and disheartened. My instinctual reaction was "How could I function without her?" When the panic dissipated, I realized I wanted therapy more than I needed it. It’s comfortable. It feels like someone will always catch me if I trip and fall. However, since I first started therapy, on and off four years ago, I’ve made enormous strides. Subconsciously, I learned how to self-regulate my emotions, calm myself down, and challenge my habitual behaviors. Before therapy, these seemed like impossible, elusive goals for an Enneagram Type Four, emotional af Pisces like me.
Regardless, my current therapist became an essential anchor during this volatile period of my life. When we first met, in the pit of my depression, I knew I needed support. She helped me transitioned out of an abusive situation. She was the first person I talked extensively to about being a satellite baby. She gave me space to genuinely explore my complicated relationship with my mom. She guided me through countless difficult conversations and managed my health crisis. I disclosed my deepest fears and shame with her, and she met me with empathy.
But our sessions weren't always dire. We joked about how I’m an old soul trapped in a 20-something body. She was the first person I wanted to tell when I challenged my own toxic dating mentality because she understood the magnitude of that step forward. She asked me difficult questions that sparked further investigation into my own psyche. There's so much we didn’t get to work through, so eventually, I want to return to therapy. But for now, I feel good about taking a pause.
Ultimately my therapist validated my experiences and encouraged me to grow. I gained the confidence to speak boldly while embracing a softer version of myself. I learned I am more resilient and able than I assumed. Now, I understand the importance of taking care of myself.
In some ways, this feels like saying goodbye to a part of myself. For a year and a half, I saw her almost every week. She knew me more intimately than my friends. Once a week, I could just be. Pessimistic, joyful, exhausted, anxious, proud, restless, angry. To be honest, I’m apprehensive that I’ll resort back to old habits. I’m forever grateful for how she impacted my life, but I wonder if this vulnerable version of me will die with our relationship.
What happens when a significant person leaves your life, abruptly or with warning? Who am I in relation to others and to myself? The most authentic version of myself will always be when I am alone, but will I ever reach a state where I can just be, despite the environment or person?
On Saturday I turn twenty-five. I'm more awake than ever. I’m hopeful about the possibilities my future holds, and I’m hyper-aware that I could die at any given moment, for no reason. I’m in the sweet spot of being old enough to understand the uncertainty of life, but young enough to make stupid life decisions without much consequence. This amount of freedom exhilarates me as much as it terrifies me. My only birthday wish is to obtain enough resolution to live the life that I want–not what my family, friends, or society wants–without disabling guilt, shame, or self-doubt.
The Cosmos Summit Crowdfund / ends on Mar 14
The Cosmos is a community for Asian women creators to flourish and thrive. When I first met the co-founders, Cass and Karen, then strangers, last year at a coffee shop, we rambled for over two hours. Love at first sight? Since then, as the creative director I’ve helped build the creative vision and currently lead a small, but mighty design team.
Last month, we launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $75,000 towards producing The Cosmos Summit: a historical gathering of 500 Asian women creators coming to Brooklyn in August 2019. Please support the biggest creative undertaking I’ve ever pursued either by donating or sharing! By supporting me, you’re also supporting the Asian women in your life.
Check it out
Why I love therapy:
Amidst a life crisis, a therapist is extremely helpful, if not lifesaving. My therapist helped me through depression, anxiety, and a mini medical crisis. She provided emotional support and held me space (sometimes just to cry). When it felt like everything in my life was crumbling or changing, therapy kept me grounded. Surprisingly, therapy also helped me with my creative struggles whether it was about feeling discouragingly stuck or freaking out about giving a talk. Some of my therapists had an art background, but my current therapist who doesn’t have an art background helped me the most. I appreciated her outside perspective.
Cognitive therapy is useful for people who want to change their behaviors such as negative self-talk or toxic habits. The most noticeable change I witnessed was my ability to communicate more confidently. Therapy gave me a safe space to dissect my previous shameful experiences, which I then felt empowered to openly speak about in public or through my artwork. But please don’t assume therapy instantly and magically makes your life better. You actually have to 1. be aware of your own shit and 2. do the difficult work to resolve your shit in order to see change. Like anything in life, you get what you put in.
As someone who requires a lot of emotional and mental engagement, therapy was a prime outlet. It was like a weekly mental exercise. Without therapy, I became restless with my own thoughts. Also, I valued my therapists’ objective POV and the resources she’d send me for further research.
Why I hate therapy:
Call me naive, but I assumed all therapists were equally qualified and helpful. Apparently, not all therapists are good (do your research before you commit). One of my therapists seemed condescending and reminded me of my mom so that got weird real quick.
I am 85% an open book, but I still found it uncomfortable to share with my therapists. I don’t know why. Maybe I wasn’t ready? In reality, I never resolved the main issues which led me to therapy. Despite this, I still appreciated therapy because I worked through other issues. If you decide to begin therapy with a goal to resolve “a," don’t be surprised or disappointed when instead, you resolve “x, y, and z.”
At some point, I hit a wall with my Caucasian therapist, who I really liked. I questioned if my sessions would’ve gone deeper if my therapist was Asian American. When I’m speaking with an Asian American Pacific Islander or second-generation immigrant, there’s an instant connection I can't describe. We don’t need to explain ourselves.
I strongly believe everyone should try therapy, but obviously, that’s not possible because therapy is expensive. A 45-minute session can cost $80. The only reason I could afford therapy was because of my mom’s insurance. I dream of a world where therapy is free and accessible for all.
Three notes on gratitude
I’m thankful for Insight Timer and Cara for helping me manage my health these past couple of months.
I’m thankful for the extraordinary humans I’ve met through The Cosmos New Year Market, Asian Womxn Rage: a zine making workshop, and Ethereal Makers Market. I’m overwhelmed by the solid support from the Asian community in NYC.
I’m thankful for Terrace House (despite its problems). This guilty pleasure brings me a level of joy I can’t quite explain. If you know, you know. The new season drops tomorrow and hell yeah I’m going to a viewing party.
A curated playlist for you
Every month I'll include a playlist for you to enjoy. I hope it makes your commute slightly less terrible.